No. 171.
Mr. Bayard to Mr. Denby.

No. 285.]

Sir: I have received and read with attention your dispatch No. 521 of December 9 last, transmitting and commenting on a publication in a Chinese newspaper purporting to be a recent memorial addressed by the King of Corea to the Emperor of China, praying for authority to send envoys to represent the Kingdom near the Government of the United States and also at the courts of the principal European powers.

My instruction No. 281 of the 26th ultimo, communicating for your information copy of an instruction and its inclosures, sent under the same date to Mr. Dinsmore, at Seoul will have informed you of the reception of the Corean minister, Pak Chung Yang, at this capital, on a footing of diplomatic equality with the representatives of other States which maintain treaty relations with the United States.

Your comments upon this singular memorial attracted my consideration. I quite agree with you that the agitation of the subject of Corea’s complete independence of China, by representatives of the United States is neither desirable nor beneficial; nor do I think it incumbent on this Department now to pursue any question heretofore raised as to the relations of Corea to China, unless called upon to do so by an actual case requiring affirmative action.

The claim of China has never been definitely stated. Upon the negotiation of our treaty with Corea, the King wrote a letter to the President which was communicated to the Secretary of State by Admiral Shufeldt, and which was before the Senate when the treaty was approved. According to the translation sent hither by Admiral Shufeldt in his report to the Secretary of State, dated May 29, 1882, the letter reads as follows:

The Chose Hsien country (Corea) is a dependency of China, but the management of her governmental affairs, home and foreign, has always been vested in the sovereign.

Now, as the Governments of the United States and Corea are about to enter into treaty relations, the intercourse between the two nations shall be carried on in every [Page 256] respect on terms of equality and courtesy, and the King of Corea clearly asserts that all the articles of the treaty shall be acknowledged and carried into effect according to the laws of independent States.

In the matter of Corea being a dependency of China (in) any question that may arise between them in consequence of such dependency the United States shall in no way interfere.

The King has accordingly deputed commissioners for the purpose of negotiating the treaty, and now, as in duty bound, addresses this communication for the information of the President of the United States.

(The date of this letter corresponds to May 15, 1882, while the treaty was signed May 22.)

According to the translation communicated to the Department by Mr. Holcombe in his No. 133 of June 26, 1882, the letter reads as follows:

Cho-sen has been from ancient times a state tributary to China, yet hitherto full sovereignty has been exercised by the Kings of Cho-sen in all matters of internal administration and foreign relations. Cho-sen and the United States, in establishing now by mutual consent a treaty, are dealing with each other upon a basis of equality. The King of Cho-sen distinctly pledges his own sovereign powers for the complete enforcement in good faith of all the stipulations of the treaty in accordance with international law.

As regards the various duties which devolve upon Cho-sen as a tributary state to China, with these the United States has no concern whatever.

Having appointed envoys to negotiate a treaty it appears to be my duty, in addition thereto, to make this preliminary declaration.

This letter, which has been accepted by China as authoritative, contains the only official statement ever received by this Government as to Corea’s relation to China.

In the report above referred to Admiral Shufeldt said that the treaty between the United States and Corea—

Was agreed to without any political consideration whatever, and only upon the promise, which I had previously made and reported, that I would forward to the President of the United States a letter from the King of ‘Cho-sen, stating the political relations existing between Cho-sen and China.

The position of the United States is that of simply requiring the observance of treaty obligations, and it is not thought expedient to pursue any controversy as to the relations of China and Corea, further than may be necessary to enable us to secure such observance. The interest of this Government is not political. It seeks merely the protection of American citizens and their commerce, and is not disposed to go beyond the point where such protection can be obtained.

I am, etc.,

T. F. Bayard.